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Believing in “occupation” as modern religion in Baltic countries

Picture: documental. su

Since the establishment of the second Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian republics, their authorities have been cherishing hopes to make Russia pay for the “occupation” by the Soviet Union. It is hardly surprising because the ideology of these states was initially based on the postulate about “forty-seven years of Soviet occupation”. Consequently, the ritual estimation of the “damage” and “compensations” is an important part of the mythology in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. How has it come about?

Cult object, symbol of faith

For the moment being, “occupation” is a kind of cult object in the Baltic countries just like the “evil deity Putin” for present-day Ukraine. So, the symbol of faith of a Latvian, Lithuanian or Estonian patriot starts with the question, “Do you acknowledge the occupation?” This is the most important “razor” that instantly separates the friends from the foes. If you believe in “occupation”, you are a “friend”, if you don’t – you are automatically put on the list of “Vatniks” (deriving from a Russian traditional cotton-padded jacket, now used to describe pro-Russian supporters in Ukraine), “Kolorads” (the nickname derived from Colorado potato beetle whose coloration reminds the ribbon of St. George, a symbol associated with the fight against Fascism in Russia) or even direct “agents of Moscow”.  Sometimes the impression is that all those “commissions for estimation of damage” give higher priority to the process, which resembles a religious rite, than the result (the Baltic states realize that their hope to receive “compensations” from Russia is absolutely groundless until a new “orange revolution” takes place in Russia).

Everything relating to estimation of that notorious “damage” is demonstratively sacral and aims to strengthen the properly cultivated image of a martyr nation. In the early 1990s, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians chose the path of nurturing the cult of national deficiency. Naturally, nothing good has come of it for them. However, it is not so easy to refuse the comfort blanket.

Latvian President Raimonds Vējonis has recently instructed the Commission for the Study of KGB Documents of the Latvian SSR to “assess the material and moral damage inflicted to our state and residents by the KGB.” The president was pleased with the fact that “the government has finally settled the problem of funding for the Commission and now the latter can launch its full-scale activities.”

The exploration of the KGB legacy is quite amusing. Well-informed opponents of publication of the 4,000 KGB dossiers think that Latvia may get strongly disappointed in their own politicians, men of culture, scientists, sportsmen, and clergy. “They were among the KGB information providers but in fact they did a lot for Latvia’s independence,” Kārlis Kangeris, Head of the Commission for the Study of KGB Documents, says trying to put the best face on matters. He does not rule out unpleasant surprises, though. For instance, former officials of the Communist Party may be found among the holders of high offices in Latvia. Vējonis urged the Commission to work hard “to make the results public after May 31, 2018.” However, this is a distant prospect. If the contents of the notorious archives were not published over the past 25 years, they are unlikely to be published in three years. No one wants to let the genie out of the bottle, except a few relatively young radicals.

As regards the “occupation” problem, one should have a look at the recent past to understand it. By early 1990s, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were quite developed countries that met the average European level then. For instance, in the late 1980s Latvia could boast of its GDP of 6,265 USD per capita (versus 10,709 USD in the Federal Republic of Germany, 7,425 USD in Italy, and 5,225 USD in Ireland). At that time, Latvia manufactured radio sets, buses, tape-recorders, milking machines, washing machines, paper, motor bikes, pianos, grand pianos, industrial robots, telephones, wagons, diesel, semiconductor integrated circuits and devices, chemical pulps and many other things. The natural population increase was 1.1 per 1,000 residents per annum.

Estonia – another “Baltic sister” - was also considered to be one of the progressive countries in the Soviet Union. The national income per capita in Estonia was much higher than the average income per capita throughout the Soviet Union: in 1989, this indicator in Estonia was 117% of the average USSR indicator. Moreover, in 1986-1989 the country experienced a real economic growth – the national economy increased 1.4-fold as compared with the previous five-year period! Lithuania could not be called a poor country either. It was building a lot of enterprises under both republican and USSR jurisdiction. The industry included shipbuilding, instrument-engineering, machine-tool building, farm machinery building, radio electronics and other sectors. The country produced artificial fiber, mineral fertilizers, plastics articles, construction materials, etc. The cotton, wool, footwear, dairy-and-meat, fish, flour-milling, and sugar industries were rapidly growing. In 1990, Lithuania was ranked the 39th in the world by its GDP per capita.

Ears of a dead donkey

However, everything sharply changed a couple of years later. It should be stressed that the leaders who came to the top during the fight for breakaway from the USSR have turned out to be from various social strata. The post-Soviet elite of the Baltic countries can be divided into two categories by its quality. The first category comprises former representatives of the Communist Party bureaucrats (partycrats), who sharply changed their slogans and creeds. They are still retaining their important positions in the local power branches. For instance, in the old days ex-President of Latvia Andris Bērziņš was deputy minister of municipal services of the Latvian SSR. He was also elected to the Valmiera district Council of People's Deputies and was appointed chairman of the district's executive commission. His Lithuanian counterpart Dalia Grybauskaitė joined the Vilnius Party High School, where she lectured in political economy and global finance until 1990. The former Prime Minister of Estonia, Andrus Ansip, was the head of the Organizational Department of the Tartu District Committee of the Estonian Communist Party.

The second part of the elite includes former exiles from Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, who left the homeland in 1944−45 together with the retreating Germans, as well as their direct descendants. Ex-president of Latvia Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga is a prominent representative of that category. She came from Canada and her presidency lasted from 1999 to 2007. Unlike the “partycrats”, the “exiles” were much more uncompromising towards the Russian-speaking population of the Baltic countries, considering them natural enemies. Nevertheless, the “exiles” and the “partycrats” came to an agreement rapidly: the latter agreed to take the stand of uncompromising nationalism for profit motives. The Soviet Union left a lot of tangible assets in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. It was necessary to keep the Russian population away from the carve-up of that tasty morsel – so, the “occupation” theory was set in motion.

The events of 1940, after which Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania found themselves in the USSR, were hard and controversial; however, it is hardly possible to interpret them as “occupation”. No matter how you slice it, the entry of the Soviet troops into their territory under the mutual assistance treaty was perceived with enthusiasm by the major part of the population, and the people-elected parliaments voted for the republics' accession to the Soviet Union. Fifty years later, however, the local elites needed to turn the occupation postulate into an unshakeable dogma. This ideological construction made it possible to prevent the “occupants” from “sharing out” the wealth left by the USSR. Consequently, the present-day historical studies in the Baltic states are fulfilling the authorities' order. It is necessary to prove that life was good before 1940. Then, the “evil Russians” arrived in 1940 and the “dreadful year” came on. Afterwards Germans sprang out and drove the “evil Russians” away. Thereafter, in 1944, the “evil Russians” came in sight again and that year marked the start of the “horrible age of Soviet occupation”. This concept played a good part in the best way possible – most of the industrial enterprises of the Lithuanian, Estonian and Latvian SSRs fell into the hands of the national elite and pushed up daisies in the 1990s. The plants and factories were simply pulled apart and ransacked. The economic downturn caused a demographic decline. By the early 1990s, there were 2.6 million people in Latvia, whereas now the population is less than 2 million. By the early 1990s, Estonia’s population was over 1.5 million people versus nearly 1.3 million now. Some 3.7 million people lived in Lithuania, but now the country's population is less than 3 million.

Right from the start, the Baltic countries have been seeking to make Russia acknowledge the occupation. First, it would completely justify the apartheid policy against the local Russians. In the early 1990s, around one million of them were humiliatingly called “non-citizens” and were deprived of many basic rights. Even those Russians who were granted citizenship are all the same considered to be “second-class citizens” by default. But even if the historical homeland recognized them as “occupants” and “children of occupants”, it would immediately remove all the possible claims against the Baltic countries for their attitude towards their national minorities. In 2005, Vaira Paegle, Chairwoman of the Latvian Saeima's Foreign Affairs Committee, frankly said, “If we renounce the occupation concept, we endanger our policy with respect to citizenship, non-citizens and their rights and other key issues. It is obvious that we cannot take such a step.”

Not long ago, Professor Pēteris Zvidriņš presented a book in Riga called “Direct demographic losses due to deportations and other Soviet actions”. During the presentation, Zvidriņš said that Latvia's direct demographic loss inflicted by the Soviet occupation is 10 million person years, while the indirect one is 20 million. For her part, Ruta Pazdere, Head of the Latvian Committee for Calculation of Losses Caused by USSR Occupation, said that the total damage caused to Latvia by the Soviet occupation is tantamount to 290 billion EUR. Before Latvia, the palm of victory for calculation of “losses caused by the occupation” belonged to Lithuania. According to various independent institutions that estimated the “damage” by the government order, Russia is to pay a compensation worth around 20 billion EUR (834 billion USD (!) was previously mentioned). Estonia is less active in demanding “compensations” but its representatives also regularly speak of а “multimillion damage”. Certainly, the authorities of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia perfectly realize that they will receive no money from Russia unless neo-Yeltsinism triumphs in Russia again to imply consistent cession of all external positions of the state.

Vyacheslav Samoylov, EADaily analyst in the Baltic region

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